Posted in: First time homebuyer tips, Buying a home

Four questions to ask when buying a condo or townhouse

condo buyer questions

Key Insights

  • Carefully review HOA fees and how the budget is spent when considering a townhouse or condo.
  • Ask for a copy of HOA rules and regulations so you can fully understand the benefits and deterrents of a space.
  • Make sure your unit is adequately soundproof before making an offer.
  • Consider parking and additional storage spaces.

Whether you’re a first-time buyer hoping to buy a starter home, or a downsizer looking for a fresh start, a condo or townhouse could be just what you need. Here are four questions you can ask as you tour condos and townhouses with your REALTOR®.

1. What are the HOA fees? How is the budget spent?

Homeowners associations (HOA) can be a plus for condo and townhouse owners who don’t want to arrange for trash pick-up or snow removal. Different HOAs cover different items—some HOA fees might include water and sewage, while others expect dwellers to cover that cost separately. It’s important to review what the HOA costs cover so you can budget appropriately. Remember, HOA fees are technically a part of your housing cost, and they should be considered when you are determining your budget.

When inquiring about your HOA fees, be sure to ask how the budget is allocated, who controls the purse strings, and how much is currently available in cash reserves. If the building is 10 to 20 years old, for example, experts recommend that 25-30% of the incoming fees be earmarked for future major repairs. It’d also be wise to ask about past special assessments and if there are any on the horizon. Be sure to look at the insurance policy and see if the coverage is robust enough for your area.

2. What are the HOA rules and regulations, and the perks or community resources?

Every homeowners association is different, so be sure to ask if the townhouse or condo:

  • Allows pets or has size and breed restrictions
  • Has regulations about upkeep of private property (including balconies)
  • Requires your unit to be owner-occupied
  • Charges fines—and what fines are most common
  • Has quiet hours or noise restrictions
  • Offers security measures (security personnel, cameras, entry fobs, lighting, etc.)

Much of this information can be found in the HOA rules and regulations, and most management companies will give you a copy to review if you ask. If you can, ask about who manages the property and how accessible they are to residents.

On the other hand, condos and townhomes can have plenty of perks. Ask if they have:

  • A pool, Jacuzzi or sauna
  • Tennis courts or a community gym
  • Indoor or outdoor party rooms
  • A community-gardening area
  • Walking paths or outdoor space

3. What is the parking and storage availability?

While almost all condos (especially complexes) and townhouses offer parking, asking if you get a complimentary parking spot or if you’ll have to pay for parking is important. Be sure to check out the parking in person and see how much space is allotted. A townhouse garage may say it fits two cars but realistically cannot accommodate two SUVs. For condos, the difference between covered parking and underground parking is a game-changer when winter rolls around. Plus, a separate building may mean additional property taxes.

For those with multiple vehicles or who like to entertain, you may want to consider what the extra parking is like. Are there plenty of spaces? Do you need a permit to park in that area? Are there restrictions when it snows or on trash days?

You should also consider any larger items you have, like bicycles, skis, luggage, camping equipment and more. Your parking space may accommodate some extra items, but it’s good to ask if the condo or townhouse comes with a private storage space and be sure to check out the storage in person to see if it matches your needs.

4. What’s the community like?

In condo and townhouse living, getting along with your neighbors can be important. With closer quarters and community-shared spaces, you could be seeing (and hearing) a lot of them.

First, check if the unit has been soundproofed. This may seem silly, but one of the top complaints of condo and townhouse owners is that they can hear their neighbors’ comings, goings and everything in between. Be sure to inquire about any soundproofing that has been done to the space and consider stopping by at different times of the day or week to get a feel for how sound travels and what the “busy” times are (for instance, if you work nights, a community with heavy foot traffic in the morning might not be the best fit).

Consider the amount of privacy you’ll have. Ask questions like:

  • Are patios/balconies blocked off from your neighbors?
  • Are there multiple elevators and entrances?
  • Are common spaces heavily used?

Depending on the amount of privacy the space has, you might want to pay attention to the lifestyle of your neighbors and see if it matches your own.

Ready for a condo or townhouse?

The questions above are just a few of the important factors you should consider when buying a condo or townhouse, but a seasoned REALTOR can help you fully understand all the advantages and disadvantages of communal living. Learn more about condos and townhouses for sale or reach out today for help on the path to homeownership.

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